Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Huascarán National Park

After breakfast on Friday we rented a 4x4 pickup truck and headed north through Huaylas valley, our primary destination being the lakes at Llanganuco in Huascarán National Park.

On the way we stopped in Carhuaz, a town known as the "Land of Ice Cream," where we sampled artisanal ice cream flavors such as chirimoya, maracuyá, peanut, the strongest rum-raisin we'd ever tasted, and even beer-flavored ice cream...

as well as some real beer:

Passing Yungay, we turned east and upward into the Cordillera Blanca, the snow-capped range on the eastern side of the valley, and toward Mt. Huascarán.

Once we left the highway, the road turned to a dirt track, which was so pitted and bumpy that it took a good 45 minutes to make the climb the 4000 feet to the park entrance. It was an uncomfortable ride for all, specially those riding in the truck bed.

The Llanganuco valley lies within the National Park, at 12,630 feet above sea level. It is a glacial valley flanked on the south by Mt. Huascarán (Peru's highest peak, at 22,205 ft) and on the north by Mt. Huandoy (20,853 ft), whose snowmelt feeds two lakes which are the valley's main attraction. We stopped by the shores of the first lake, Chinancocha.

Unfortunately, several of the kids were affected by the reduced oxygen level, suffering from headaches and being generally ill-at-ease. Their symptoms were somewhat eased by cupfuls of a coca and muña-leaf tea and papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes).

Somewhat revived by the snack, we opted for a light lunch of a mix of roasted guinea pig, chicharrones, boiled corn with cheese, or fry-bread, all prepared on-the-spot over a wood fire.

Nico declared the picante de cuy he ate the best guinea pig dish he'd ever tasted, and the fry bread, called cachanga, was pretty darn good, but the chicharrones were fatty and bony, and left a lot to be desired in both flavor and price. Still, the setting could hardly be improved...

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